The trouble with elections is that the ballots are barely counted and the winner declared before the pundits, spin doctors and others of like ilk weigh in with their analyses of what the election really meant and what its outcome really portends. And because it is their mission, they find meaning and portents even where, in many instances, none exist.
If it were not for these armchair experts, we might be lulled into thinking that last week’s Nova Scotia election was just that: a provincial election. An election in which the voters—in the absence of any overarching issues— decided to trade a minority Liberal government led by a small-town lawyer for a majority Conservative one led by a small-town doctor (page 16).
The pundits, naturally, read much more into the outcome. Nova Scotians, we are told, handed Jean Chrétiens Liberals a huge rebuff—by leaving Newfoundland as the only province that still has a Liberal administration. And, coming as it did on the heels of the election of a Tory government in New Brunswick and the re-election of
one in Ontario, we are advised, the Nova Scotia vote sent a warning that the Liberals can expect big trouble in the next federal election. In punditland, when there are losers there must be winners. So the winners were declared: federal Conservative Leader Joe Clark (who took a bow even though his involvement was minuscule in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and non-existent in Ontario); and even Preston Manning (whose Reform party was not involved in the recent provincial elections).
In fact, Canadians are canny voters. They know their best assurance of getting their bread buttered on both sides is to elect politicians of competing stripe to Parliament and the legislature. It does not follow, however, that a change of government in a province has any bearing on victory or defeat at the federal level. Consider Ontario, which plays the balancing act better than most. In 1993, with an NDP government at Queen’s Park, Chrétien’s Liberals won 98 of Ontario’s 99 federal seats. Two years later, in an upset of Nova Scotia proportions, Ontarians elected Mike Harris and a majority
Tory government. In 1997, the federal Liberals won 101 of the 103 seats in the province. And this year, the Harris Conservatives won another majority— which, if it means anything, suggests the Liberals may have little to worry about in Ontario when the next federal election rolls around.
This explanation will be too simple to wash in punditland, but it seems to me that Nova Scotians did what they did because they were tired of the stresses of minority government and turned off by the confrontational campaigns waged by the Liberal and NDP leaders. They turned for calm and stability to John Hamm, a thoughtful and earnest family doctor who got into politics almost by accident and seems the antithesis of an ambitious politician. Hamm reminds many Nova Scotians of Robert Stanfield, who ranks with Angus L. Macdonald as the most beloved premier the province has ever had. Hamm may not be another Stanfield, but if he is anything like him, Nova Scotia will have little cause for complaint.
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